Sunday, January 19, 2020

Population: Cities, Town and Villages in Sundaland

I've created a very basic model for calculating the number of cities and population numbers for the Sundaland subcontinent. I've calculated five sets of numbers which will be a useful starting point for a range of time periods or scenarios. My intention is only to arrive at figures that feel right to me. If you have any suggestions let me know.

From what I've read the first cities in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mexico* had populations numbering in the tens of thousands from around 30,000 to 80,000. So I'm picking 50,000 as the size of the biggest cities in a low population scenario or time. The biggest cities during a Classical Age type of development is 1,000,000 equivalent to ancient Rome and Alexandria at the height of the Roman Empire.

I'm imagining one city for each of the big river systems, South, East and West and one for the big inland sea, so four in total. The definition of a city in this model is loose because I take a lot of inspiration from the Maya and Khmer.

To calculate the number I've used the following rule. For each tier of settlement below the biggest city I double the number and halve the population, rounding up to whole numbers. I do this down to around 100 people which corresponds roughly to Dunbar's Number. So if there are 4 cities with an average population of 50,000 then there are 8 cities with 25,000 inhabitants, 16 with 12,500 inhabitants etc.

Depending on the characteristics of the culture and where it's located these numbers might be for a compact city or town, a spread out settlement or even a roaming band of hunter-gatherers.

*Recent research indicates that civilisations in rain forests were able to sustain larger populations than previously thought. See further below for some research about these fascinating urban environments.

Population Size Number Total
50,000 4 200,000
25,000 8 200,000
12,500 16 200,000
6,250 32 200,000
3,125 64 200,000
1,563 128 200,000
781 256 200,000
391 512 200,000
195 1024 200,000
98 2048 200,000
- - -
- - 2,000,000

Population Size Number Total
100,000 4 400,000
50,000 8 400,000
25,000 16 400,000
12,500 32 400,000
6,250 64 400,000
3,125 128 400,000
1,563 256 400,000
781 512 400,000
391 1,024 400,000
195 2,048 400,000
98 4,096 400,000
- - -
- - 4,400,000

Population Number Total
250,000 4 1,000,000
125,000 8 1,000,000
62,500 16 1,000,000
31,250 32 1,000,000
15,625 64 1,000,000
7,813 128 1,000,000
3,906 256 1,000,000
1,953 512 1,000,000
977 1024 1,000,000
488 2048 1,000,000
244 8192 1,000,000
244 4096 1,000,000
122 8,192 1,000,000
- - -
- - 12,000,000

Population  Number Total
500,000 4 2,000,000
250,000 8 2,000,000
125,000 16 2,000,000
62,500 32 2,000,000
31,250 64 2,000,000
15,625 128 2,000,000
7,813 256 2,000,000
3,906 512 2,000,000
1,953 1,024 2,000,000
977 2,048 2,000,000
488 4,096 2,000,000
244 8,192 2,000,000
122 16384 2,000,000
- - -
- - 26,000,000

Population Number Total
1,000,000 4 4,000,000
500,000 8 4,000,000
250,500 16 4,000,000
125,000 32 4,000,000
62,500 64 4,000,000
31,250 128 4,000,000
15,25 256 4,000,000
7,813 512 4,000,000
3,906 1024 4,000,000
1,953 2048 4,000,000
977 4,096 4,000,000
488 8,192 4,000,000
244 16,348 4,000,000
122 32,768 4,000,000
- - -
- - 56,000,000

Large urban communities in rainforest environments

Recent findings in Mexico and Cambodia indicate that the population that could be sustained in these jungle environments was higher than initially thought (at least for a while). It seems that there once existed sprawling urban communities within the forests. While I'm sure large areas were cleared it is nevertheless an evocative idea that contrasts with the common idea of what a city looks like. The articles linked are short but are great for stimulating the imagination. They also discuss the reasons these civilisations might have collapsed.
In what's being hailed as a 'major breakthrough' in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.
Exclusive: Laser Scans Reveal Maya "Megalopolis" Below Guatemalan Jungle

It also seems that there was more warfare happening amongst the Maya than was initially thought.
Archaeologists guided by laser images of a remote region of northern Guatemala have discovered 20-foot-high walls, watchtowers, and other evidence that ancient Maya societies waged large-scale warfare over many years. The finds have upended long-established impressions of a civilisation that tamed the jungle and built thriving cities, then declined and disappeared beneath the dense tropical forest.
Lasers reveal Maya war ruins

More Articles

Articles about the city around Angkor Watt in Cambodia which had a sophisticated water management system using canals and artificial ponds and lakes.

Angkor was a city ahead of its time
Revealed: Cambodia's vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

An article about Maya ruins uncovered by LIDAR that contains some great images:
How Lasers Are Utterly Transforming Our Understanding of the Ancient Maya, Bringing Their Whole Civilization Back to Light

Mayan Mysteries: Discusses possible reasons for the collapse of the cities including deforestation and drought.

Monday, December 30, 2019

City Generation Tables

The city walls were as tall as four men and as thick as three, with guards and lookouts posted at intervals all along the top. The main entrance gate had two large doors covered with polished sheets of bronze, cast with the forms of the 12 tigers. Inside the walls the buildings seemed much like others of the area, tightly packed mud brick dwellings built in a continuous complex with only the occasional alley or street between them. But curiously none of them could be entered from the ground level, the only entrance being hatches on the roof. This meant that intruders could be delayed by pulling up the ladders that led to the top. Even the citadel of the elder council was accessible only by large wooden staircases that could be removed when necessary.
- An Account of Tanah Sunda by Rishasingra 

Here are some tables to help generate the details of a city or for when you need a random location.

City Areas

Common labourers, artisans, merchants and bureaucrats will account for the majority of the population and take up the largest area. The foreigners and slave areas might in some cases be located outside of the main city walls. Some cities will have inhabitants from different groups living amongst each other while others will have them strictly separated.
  1. Foreigners travellers, merchants and mercenaries.
  2. Common labourers and enslaved people.
  3. Artisans, merchants and bureaucrats.
  4. Warriors, soldiers, guards.
  5. Religious caste.
  6. Nobles or Elites.
City Features

Use this table to identify a particular location. Some cities will have all of these features, some will only have several, some will have multiples of a single type.
  1. Fort or walls.
  2. Market
  3. Temple
  4. Plaza
  5. Storage building.
  6. Residential building.
  7. Workshop
  8. Flower garden.
  9. Palace
  10. Aquaduct or fountain.
  11. Harbour
  12. Vegetable or fruit garden.
  13. Animal enclosure.
  14. Watch tower or lighthouse.
  15. Public bath and sauna.
  16. School, academy or training facility.
  17. Open air theatre or arena.
  18. Barracks
  19. Prison
  20. Catacombs, underground complex or tunnels.
Type of Residential Buildings

The typical residential buildings for commoners.
  1. Wooden houses sometimes raised on earthworks or stilts.
  2. Round or oval buildings with wooden or thatched roof and a low stone wall or base.
  3. Tightly packed mud brick buildings.
  4. Carved into the rock, either above or underground.
  5. A single continuous interconnected complex made from stone or mud bricks.
  6. On stilts along rivers or in the water.
Unusual Features
  1. Extensive waterways.
  2. Entry to buildings through the roof.
  3. Causeways or raised walkways.
  4. Necropolis within the city walls.
  5. Terraced city.
  6. Extensively planned city layout.
Features Outside the City
  1. Nearby quarry or mine.
  2. Farm or garden terraces.
  3. Ancient megalith site.
  4. Numerous or especially large cenotes.
  5. Large waterfalls.
  6. Independent religious community.
City Scenarios
  1. Hidden tunnels are revealed.
  2. A new cult is spreading.
  3. A rebellious faction is growing in power and influence.
  4. A slave or commoner revolt is on the verge of breaking out.
  5. Critical infrastructure such as walls, roads, ditches or terraces are neglected and in disrepair.
  6. A prominent person is assassinated.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Monsoons and Typhoons in Sundaland

When the winds shift and the rains start to fall the people of Sundaland celebrate the nourishment it brings to the land. They give thanks and offerings to their gods and enjoy festivities with their families. The weeks and months ahead will result in a bounty that is a reward for hard work and preparations made during the rest of the year.
- An Account of Tanah Sunda by Rishasingra 
Monsoon Rains

Unlike Europe and North America the area of Sundaland does not experience four distinct seasons. Instead there are two Monsoon seasons, broadly speaking a warm and wet season and a cool and dry season, with some local variations in timing. The point is that the cycle of dry and wet seasons will be an important influence on the local culture as it is today where there are special festivities to celebrate the coming of the rains. These alternating seasons could be an influence on religion, festivities, ease of travel and war opportunities.

The monsoon rains are driven by prevailing winds which alternate in origin from the Southeast and Northwest directions with a curvature at the equator due to the coriolis force. As I mentioned there are local variations in terms of timing so I won't go into too much detail here. I've linked to climate pages for each of the countries in the region which will help you get an overall picture of the weather.  Remember that the average temperature of the planet was a couple of  degrees cooler during the last Ice Age and that it was dryer compared to now since more water was locked up in ice sheets. This means that rainy seasons are even more important than normal to the people of the central Sundaland plains.

I suggest you do a search for the area name plus 'climate' or 'monsoon' if you want more details. The climate of the central plain of Sundaland will fall somewhere in between the relevant landmasses.

North Australia
Papua New Guinea
North Vietnam
South Vietnam
Southern China

Read more about the Malaysian-Australian Monsoon.


A typhoon is a tropical storm that develops in the Pacific Ocean and moves towards the west. The wind speed must be greater than 119 km ph / 74 mph for a tropical storm to be categorised as a typhoon. Peak months for typhoons are from May to October but they can occur throughout the year.

The areas most affected by typhoons are where the modern day countries of the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong exist.

Besides the high winds other features of typhoons include tidal surges along the coasts and landslides in hill areas.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Real History: 44,000 year old cave painting found in Sulawesi

The cave art found in Sulawesi depicts several Anoa, warty pigs and animal-human hybrids. It is thought to be twice as old as the previously known oldest cave art found in Europe.

Read the full BBC article here: Sulawesi art: Animal painting found in cave is 44,000 years old

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Random RPG Faction Generator

This is a set of tables to help you generate the various aspects of a faction for your world or to add to culture you've previously created with the Sundaland Culture Generator. You might already have some of the big picture ideas figured out in which case you can use the appropriate tables to flesh out some of the details.

My tip is to find ways to link the factions in some way. Perhaps one faction possesses a secret or MacGuffin that another aspires to own, or maybe two factions are working against each other to achieve contradictory goals. This will make the setting dynamic and give players ways to engage with it.

It's tempting to create a fully detailed world in every sense but this can inhibit creativity and emergent content. It's better to detail the minimum you need before playing since you don't have to account for every single faction in your setting. Two or three per culture will be enough to start with and some details may not be discovered until later. See my article for more on this topic: Constructing fictional worlds while leaving room for other people's imagination and creativity.

As with the culture generator I advise you to embrace results that seem strange or contradictory, this will help you avoid tropes and cliches and will force you to create an interesting narrative to thread everything together. See also: Creating Culture Shock In Sword & Sorcery Settings.

There are twelve tables, each with six results so you can roll a d6 for each one. I encourage you to vary the order of the tables you use otherwise you'll find yourself thinking along familiar cliches. You could use a d12 to determine the order that you roll in.

1. Caste or Faction Type

Does the faction originate in or from a particular caste?
  1. Warrior Caste
  2. Priest Caste
  3. Scholar Caste
  4. Bureaucratic Caste
  5. Merchant Caste
  6. Casteless, Secret Organisation or Cult
2. Origin 

The age, location or circumstances of the faction's origin
  1. Ancient
  2. New or Recent
  3. Local
  4. Foreign
  5. Alliance
  6. Splinter Group
3. Leadership

The leadership structure of this faction as perceived by it's members or outsiders.
  1. A perceived or real otherworldly or higher power.
  2. Authoritarian: One person.
  3. Elite: A small group of people.
  4. Council: Elected, self-appointed or appointed on merit.
  5. By Vote: By popular vote or voted in by particular members.
  6. Unknown: Not even the members know or understand who leads.
4. Motivation

The faction might have several overlapping motivations but one of them is the most important.
  1. Power
  2. Wealth
  3. Influence
  4. Maintain balance or the status quo
  5. Revolution
  6. Destruction
5. Method

How does this faction achieve their goals?
  1. Legal or By The Book: Within the legal framework of the current culture or society.
  2. Overt Violence: War, raids, ceremonial or gladiatorial combat.
  3. Hidden Violence: Assassinations, secret raids.
  4. Bribery and Corruption: With resources or favours.
  5. Sow Distrust and Discord: Pit different people or factions against each other.
  6. Manipulate or Leverage: Using secret knowledge.
6. Strength

What is this faction's strength?
  1. Act Decisively: No hesitation when an opportunity presents itself.
  2. Meticulous Planning: Account for all possibilities and outcomes.
  3. Decentralised: A network of associations, hard to shut down.
  4. Allies: Have supportive and powerful allies.
  5. Resources: Own or have access to valuable resources.
  6. Fanatical: Will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
7. Weakness

What is this faction's weakness?
  1. They have a debt or someone has leverage over them.
  2. Overly greedy or ambitious.
  3. Corrupt
  4. Immoral
  5. Disorganised or incompetent.
  6. Impulsive 
8. Secret or MacGuffin

This faction possesses or has access to a secret or MacGuffin. This might be the thing the faction needs to achieve their goal or a thing they must keep from another faction. Roll on the extra tables for more details about this secret or MacGuffin. 
  1. Artefact
  2. Location
  3. Person
  4. Knowledge
  5. Event
  6. Resource
8.1 Artefact
  1. Idol or Statue
  2. Tablet or Scroll
  3. Tool or Instrument
  4. Treasure, Jewels or Jewellery
  5. Urn, Bones or Remains.
  6. Weapon, Armour or Shield.
8.2 Location
  1. Building
  2. Cave System or Underground Complex
  3. Island
  4. Ruin
  5. Settlement
  6. Valley
8.3 Person
  1. Close Relation
  2. Friend or Ally
  3. Heir or Claimant
  4. Prophet or Guru
  5. Reincarnation or Avatar (perceived or real)
  6. Traitor, Spy or Informant
8.4 Knowledge
  1. Astronomy
  2. Biology
  3. Geography
  4. Politics
  5. Crafting
  6. Religion
8.5 Event
  1. Alliance: Impending or secret alliance
  2. Assassination: The target and/or the assassin
  3. Astronomical: Foreknowledge of an astronomical event like a comet or conjunction.
  4. Attack: Knowledge about the timing, strategy or resources involved.
  5. Betrayal: The traitor, spy or informant and who they are working for.
  6. Embargo or Resource Restriction: The resources that are restricted and why.
8.6 Resource
  1. Animal
  2. Human
  3. Mineral
  4. Plant
  5. Tool
  6. Weapon
9. Complication

Something is getting in the way of the faction being able to achieve their goal.
  1. Running out of time.
  2. Need more or specific people.
  3. Need more or a specific resource.
  4. A spanner in the works.
  5. Arousing suspicion.
  6. Something is wrong with the secret or MacGuffin.
10. Inner Conflict

There is a conflict within the faction.
  1. Disputed Leadership
  2. Competing What's: What should they be doing?
  3. Competing How's: How should they go about achieving what they want?
  4. Competing Why's: Why are they doing what they do?
  5. Inherent Contradiction: There is a contradiction between what the faction wants to achieve and how they're going about achieving it.
  6. Traitor, Spy, Informant: One of the members is working against the faction.
11. Outer Conflict

There is an outside force that is working against the intentions of the faction.
  1. Direct Competition: Another person or faction wants the same thing.
  2. Direct Opposition: Another person or faction is trying to stop them.
  3. Accidental Interference: Another person or faction in accidentally working against them.
  4. Environmental Disruption: Something in the environment, perhaps a natural disaster, is inhibiting them from achieving their goals.
  5. Political Disruption: An unintended shift in the political environment is preventing the faction from achieving their goals.
  6. Secret or Weakness Discovered: Another person or faction has discovered the secret or weakness and is exploiting it.
12. Moral Compass

How do they make decisions within the faction?
  1. Might makes right
  2. Discern the will of the gods
  3. Let fate decide
  4. Strict rule of law
  5. Collective will of the members
  6. The leaders decide

Friday, November 22, 2019

Why You Should Use The Number 72 In Your Game

There are two pyramids at the centre of the city, one each for the Sun and Rain gods. Located on the North and South sides of the central plaza the red stones of the pyramids crawl with priests and pilgrims that climb up and down the 36 steps of each staircase while reciting prayers and mantras. A broad walkway passes between the pyramids from East to West and there are 72 archways through which, once per year, the rising sun is precisely aligned.
- An Account of Tanah Sunda by Rishasingra 
Something you might have noticed when reading about the myths and religions of ancient civilisations is their use of very specific numbers. For example Osiris wasn't just enclosed in a coffin by several disciples of Seth, there were specifically 72 of them. And in the Viking myths it is said that during Ragnorak 800 heroes will march out of the 540 doors of Valhalla for the final battle. Are these just random numbers or are they significant in some way?

In 1969 Giorgio de Santillana wrote the book Hamlet's Mill in which he posits that an ancient culture discovered the precession of the equinoxes, how the sun rises and sets against a changing background of star constellations in a cycle that lasts 25,776 years (2148 years per zodiac constellation). This is basically what astrologers are talking about when they say that we've recently left the age of Pices and have moved into the age of Aquarius. This ancient culture encoded important numbers into stories, myths and religions in order to ensure the transmission of this astronomical knowledge through the ages.

Decades later this hypothesis has taken on a new meaning in light of the research done by authors like Graham Hancock (Magicians of the Gods) concerning a possible lost civilisation that was destroyed at the end of the last Ice Age, the survivors of which spread out across the globe to pass on their advanced knowledge.

The number 72 is deemed particularly important because if you divide 25,920 years of the Axial Precession by 360 degrees you get 72. (In actual fact 1 degrees takes 71.6 years but that's not a number ancient people wold have been able to convey in a story). All of this of course presupposes that the concept of 12 distinct star constellations and dividing a circle in 360 degrees were invented by the ancient civilisation.

These are some of the main numbers to work from. The numbers on the left are calculated using 71.6, those on the right using 72.
  • 12 signs of the Zodiac
  • 360 degrees
  • 30 degrees per Zodiac Sign / Constellation
  • 71.6 / 72 years per degree
  • 2,148 / 2,160 years per Zodiac Sign / Constellation
  • 25,776 / 25,920 for a complete precession.
You can play around with these numbers with simple multiplications and divisions as I did in the opening vignette. So each pyramid staircase has 36 steps (2 x 36 = 72). Another example would be describing an army in an ancient myth that consisted of 21,4800 soldiers.

Anyway, this is just a fun way for me to add in some flavour to the setting that alludes to the lost civilisation theme.

The below video lays out the hypothesis in a little more depth (length: 18:24 minutes).

More resources:

Wikipedia: 72 in Religion
Wikipedia: Axial Precession
Wikipedia: Equinox
Wikipedia: March Equinox

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Sundaland Workbook: What does your Sundaland Look Like?

Inspired by the World Workbook from the free RPG IronSworn I've written up a framework with questions to help you set the scene for your version of Sundaland.

Choose one of the three options from each section or use them as a springboard for your own variations. Flesh out the details as much as you see fit or play to discover the details as you go along. Go to the Content Overview for the resources I've created to add details to this framework.

Gods and Religion

People worship many different gods. Most religions are polytheistic but even the monotheists don’t deny the existence of other gods, just that theirs favours them in particular or is the most powerful above all others.

1. The gods are culturally important but they don’t really exist. Does belief in gods benefit people? Or is religion used to manipulate them? By whom? How is that done and to what end?

2. The gods exist but their direct impact on the world is limited. They work through mysterious ways. Communication with them is difficult to achieve and the results are often ambiguous and open to interpretation. Who is able to communicate with the gods and how do they do it? What are their messages and intentions for mortals?

3. The gods are real and their impact on the material world is evident in everyday life. Direct communication with them is possible. However they are capricious, volatile and ultimately unfathomable. How are the gods affecting the world and to what end? Is there anything mortals can do to affect their actions or are we at their whim?


1. Magic is something people believe in but doesn’t really exist. Each culture has its own practices revolving around rituals, talismans, magical locations and beings but ultimately none of these have any real world impact. Why do people believe in magic and how does this affect their lives positively or negatively? Are there any widespread or local beliefs about the nature of magic, how it works and who can wield it?

2. Magic is something that a select few have access to under the right circumstances or with the right knowledge and resources. Even then the results are not consistent or definitely identifiable as magic. Perhaps it is dangerous and maybe it corrupts those who indulge in its practice. What are the necessary conditions for magic to happen? What do the results look like? How does it affect the practitioner and the world?

3. Magic is real and reliable. It is a form of technology that affects every level of society. Who can practice magic? What does practicing magic look like? What are the implications for the world and its people?

Human Species

Homo Sapiens Sapiens are not the first Homo species to arrive in Sundaland. Other species like the Homo Denisova and Homo Floresiensis inhabited the land before we arrived.

1. We are in the minority compared to other species but we are growing in number and have attributes and abilities that may give us the advantage. What gives us the advantage and how will our encroachment onto the territories of other species play out?

2. Our species rarely interacts with other types of humans since they are low in number. We are out competing them in many areas and it seems it won’t be long before we become the dominant type. However we have much to learn from them if we’re willing to. What special knowledge or abilities do other species of humans possess? Are they willing to share those or are they intent on keeping them to themselves? If the latter, what could persuade them to share?

3. The other species of humans are thriving in their own way and there is regular contact between them and ourselves. This contact varies in nature, in some places we coexist peacefully in others there is friction and sometimes outright violence. What influences the nature of the relationship and what might change it? Will we ultimately become the dominant species or is that question far from settled?

Technology Level

I imagine that cultures will each be at a different level of technology, with some remaining as hunter-gatherers while others develop in a different direction. There’s also the possibility that cultures lose knowledge and regress in sophistication due to wars or natural disasters. This section described the average technology level for your setting.

I’ve left the question of the domestication of rice as a separate matter for the reader to answer because it has such a big impact on the world. Rice farming is very labour intensive and requires a lot of planning and cooperation which necessarily requires or leads to more complex social structures. The current scientific consensus is that rice wasn’t domesticated until 13,500 - 8000 years ago in China. But you could imagine that rice was domesticated in Sundaland and then spread around the region after the floods. 

1. Bronze Age

People have learned to cast bronze tools and weapons using copper and tin. Sources of food are early forms of horticulture (gardening) and agriculture (farming) supplemented by fishing, hunting and gathering. Some plants and animals are in the early stages of domestication. Examples of technologies include the plow, soap, oil lamps, rope and the wheel. 

Writing has been invented but very few people can read and write. Astronomical knowledge may be quite advanced with some cultures building monuments that reflect knowledge of precession, equinoxes and various planetary alignments. 

Boats consist of various types of canoes and catamarans powered by oars or using sails such as the Crab Claw Sail. Commerce is facilitated through barter and various non-coin currencies. Coin currencies may be in use by some cultures but it’s not widespread or standardised. Most people live in wooden buildings but temples, forts and palaces are built with stone.

2. Iron Age

Iron becomes the dominant metal for tools and weapons and new inventions improve productivity such as the potters wheel which it easier to create symmetrical pottery. More species of plants and animals have become domesticated and coin currency has become more popular. Literacy is still limited to a small portion of the population. Larger states evolve with more complex social structures.

3. Classical Age 

The technology level reaches that of the Roman, Han and Gupta empires at their height. Science, architecture and art flourish due to the stability brought by centralised states with developed economies, large functional bureaucracies and full time professional armies. Perhaps the level of technology even develops to famed Atlantean levels?

Status and Hierarchy

Civilisation allows for the division of labour and role specialisation which can lead to the formation of class and caste structures, often hierarchical in nature. Each class or caste ranks in rights, power, wealth and status but there doesn't necessarily have to be a correlation between each of these. Some classes or castes might have a lot of status but no wealth or vice versa.

1. Your home culture is highly stratified with little social mobility between classes or castes. The benefit is overall stability at the cost of dynamism and innovation. What does the social structure look like and what underpins it? Is it possible for people to move between classes or castes? Under which conditions?

2. Your home culture is stratified but there is opportunity to move between classes and castes, either through community sanctioned opportunities or due to external circumstances (war, natural disasters, depopulation etc.) What are the circumstances or conditions under which mobility can happen? What are the benefits for the culture and what are the downsides? What could incentivise people to push for a change in their personal, family or group's circumstances and what are the potential costs, risks, opportunities and rewards?

3. Your culture has a loose social structure with a lot of opportunity for social mobility which is either inbuilt or due to external circumstances (war, natural disasters, depopulation etc.). This is a dynamic social environment with both positive and negative consequences. The risks are are great but so are the opportunities. Why is the society of your culture not as stratified as others? Has it always been this way or did this situation come about recently? What are the challenges and opportunities?


1. The overall population is small. The land is sparsely populated. There are a couple of city states but most people live in small communities or as hunter gatherers. The land is wild and dangerous to humans. What are the dangers that people face in the wild? What is limiting the expansion of civilisation? How can new communities establish themselves?

2. There are numerous towns and city-states. The world is still a dangerous place but well prepared groups can explore far from civilisation. What are the incentives for venturing out into the wild?

3. People have thrived and multiplied in Sundaland. There are now integrated states, kingdoms and perhaps even empires. Is the current population sustainable? What is the effect on the environment? What could alter the current stable situation for the worse?


1. Resources are abundant and all cultures have everything they need to survive and thrive. Is there something non-material that people lack? What could cause a conflict between cultures if all their needs are met? 

2. Some resources are scarce. Each culture has the basics of what they need but there are a couple of key things they need to acquire from outside sources. Sometimes those resources can be acquired through trade or exploration other times through raiding or conquest. Which resources are in need by particular cultures? Are they in need of food staples, luxury goods or strategically important materials such as tin and copper? What happens when a resource restrictions happens? How are conflicts over resources resolved? 

3. Resources are scarce. Everything from food to strategic resources is hard to acquire and this drives conflict and aggressive exploration. What form does the conflict take? Is there a solution to the scarcity?


1. Trade between cultures is minimal as they are mostly self-sufficient in their needs. When it does happen it is mostly symbolic as part of ambassadorial missions. As a result, cultures are isolated from each other with minimal contact. What is the reason for this? What are the results of this relative isolation? What could bring about a change?

2. Cultures are mostly self sufficient in terms of their basic necessities but some important resources are actively traded. What resources are being traded and what does this do for the balance of power between different cultures?

3. Economies are interlinked and reliant on each other in a complex web of trade. Cultures have become specialised in what they produce. Everything from food to luxury resources are traded back and forth. A broken link in the chain could cause a cascading collapse of heavily interdependent economies. Which resources are most important to keeping the system going? Are there particular resources that are becoming scarce or about to be restricted in some way? What will the outcome of that be?


1. The land is relatively peaceful. The cultures of Sundaland prefer trade over war. How do conflicts manifest themselves? How are they resolved? What could change this state of affairs? What will be the consequences?

2. The land experiences intermittent or ritual warfare. If there is a cold war of sorts then there are small skirmishes and conflicts erupting all the time. Things are in a precarious balance between the various factions that each strive for an advantage. How do the factions try to secure an advantage? Are they willing to risk an escalation? What are the potential rewards for the victors? What could change the balance of power between the factions?

3. The land is experiencing a constant and total war. Cultures revolve around battle and warfare and few can even remember how or why it all began. All people know is that they can never stop and must win at all costs. What are the consequences of this war for each culture? Do any of the factions have a chance for total victory? What are the winning conditions? Are other outcomes possible? Are there other ways to win besides the obvious ones?

Ice-Age Megafauna

1. There are stories of large animals and monsters that used to stalk the land in bygone ages but most people believe these to be just myths. What happened to the megafauna? Are there any left? Where do they live and what danger do they pose to people if any? What would the outcome be if anyone proves these animals to still exist?

2. Occasionally explorers and travellers encounter large animals and monsters far from civilisation. Is there any value in hunting or capturing these animals? What are the rewards? Do they threaten civilisation in any way? Are they likely to multiply in numbers or die out?

3. There are numerous large animals and monsters still alive and their existence inhibits the spread of civilisation. Can anything be done to curtail their numbers? How will that be done?


1. The tides are regular and predictable allowing settlements to exist safely along the rivers and coasts. Is there competition for the available living space? Are there any constraints on available resources? Are there any outside forces that seek to take advantage of this stability?

2. There have been floods resulting in the destruction of some towns and cities. Refugees have been forced inland causing tensions with other people. Will the floods continue? What will the displaced people do? How will they be received by those living inland? What are the knock-on effects?

3. Flooding is continuous and widespread, sometimes the water encroaches steadily, sometimes it arrives in tsunamis. People are fleeing for their lives and pushed into conflict with others living further inland. Resources are scarce and everyone faces a battle for survival. How are cultures coping? Does cooperation happen? What kind of conflicts arise because of this? What is the plan for survival? Is there hope for the future of civilisation?

Elder Beings and Species

Elder beings originate from beyond space and time, older even than the gods and perhaps more powerful. Elder species are intelligent non-humans that developed culture and technology before any kind of human set foot in Sundaland.

1. Elder beings and species are just stories to scare children. There’s no evidence that they ever existed. How do they fit into the cosmology or religion of the people?

2. Elder beings and species were banished from this world or mostly killed off in ancient times. They seek entrance or ascendance. For elder beings: How do they manifest in our world? How do they communicate their will and with whom? What is their ultimate goal? For elder species: What are they? Where do they live? What do they want? How will they go about getting that?

3. Elder beings exist in our world and are in constant struggle with the gods. How does this struggle manifest itself? Is it something people can intervene in or are we helpless spectators? Elder species still exist and seek to return to dominance. How are they going about it? Will this bring them into conflict with humans? Is the relationship friendly or antagonistic? What could change this set of circumstances?